Establishing a love for the game early on, committing to practice and putting in the hard work are just a few of the concepts athletes will learn at Spartan Baseball/Softball Development Academy. Owner Jon Tatum tailors the classes and programs at Spartan to meet the needs of different ages and levels of athletes in Saline County and beyond. Many goals are sought after, with the main one being to get better.
After working at a few other facilities and organizations in the Saline County and central Arkansas areas, Jon says he noticed there should be more emphasis on individual player development in the youth baseball culture. Using his experience at the Division 1 level and his time spent in professional baseball, Jon opened Spartan in September 2020 after recognizing this need. “I wanted a place where young baseball and softball players could come train with high level instructors, play competitively, and most importantly, be challenged to get better.”
Jon’s late “Mamaw” gets all the credit for his interest in baseball, he says. Growing up, he watched the Atlanta Braves “religiously” with her. “She taught me the game at a very young age. I can remember watching Sid Bream slide in just before the tag in the ’92 NLCS and us going crazy together with excitement. It was in that moment that I fell in love with the game of baseball; the highs, the lows, and everything in between.”
That same passion carries over into what is offered at Spartan. The atmosphere is “electric,” Jon notes, adding, “The training culture for youth athletes that we have created is unique.” On any given night, you can see a team practicing, individual instruction, a speed and agility class, and athletes coming in on their own to work on their skills.
Spartan offers one-on-one private instruction, specialty classes, competitive tournament teams, strength and conditioning, speed and agility, and showcase summer ball for high school players. Jon gives a shout out to his instructors: Will Lewis and his School of Swing, Drew Heid, Jeremy Myers, Ben Crumpton, Josh Fisher, April Finley, Jason Scoggins and Brennen Hatley (strength/speed and agility). It was important to Jon to build a staff that had the experience needed to teach and mentor these young athletes on what it takes to get to the next level both on the physical skill set and mental aspects of the game.
Another unique aspect of Spartan is its emphasis on catching, which he says is the most “underdeveloped position” in youth baseball and softball. The Monday evening, “Catching U” classes provide a great opportunity for catchers ages 8-18 to come and work on their skill set, learn more about their craft and have the opportunity to be around other catchers from other teams and other parts of the state.
“On a typical Monday night between twenty-five to forty catchers come to train at Spartan,” Jon says. “We are also the only organization in Saline County that has teams for all ages seven to eighteen with the addition of our partnership with Perfect Timing Baseball in Northwest Arkansas for high school showcase baseball.”
Teams go up to 18 years of age, but Spartan trains athletes into their 20s, all the way up to 25. Athletes come from all over the state to play and train at Spartan.
When it comes to training young athletes, success can be broken down among different age groups.
• For 7 and 8-year-olds, training is about teaching a love for the game. This is the time to establish the swing and focus on how to catch, hit and throw.
• For 9 to 11-year-olds, the focus is on understanding the ins and outs of the game. They learn respect for the game and how to practice and develop a mental approach.
• For 12 and 13-year-olds, it is crucial to grow some tools and skills. This age group is preparing for the bigger field, evolving the mental game and acquiring the skills it takes.
• For the 14-year-old, it is time to start ramping up the intensity. They are preparing for high school, advancing their goals and learning the concept of a complete player.
• For high school players or the “showcase” group, they are fine tuning being a student of the game. This age group works on what it means to have a growth mindset and the importance of analytics and networking.
• For post high school age, athletes wrap up their training and start helping others. They are continuing their development skills and working on networking and supporting others.
Classes and training programs are offered year-round at Spartan. Jon says there is no limitation to how often an athlete should train. “Training is not confined to inside a facility or on a field. Sacrifice is a word that is not used enough with players today.
“Someone very wise once told me, ‘If you do not sacrifice for what you want, then what you want will be sacrificed.’” Sometimes players are easily distracted and they might miss out on opportunities, he says. “The path to be great is very narrow and it takes a very high level of discipline to make it.”
On just its second year in business, Spartan Academy is “still very young,” Jon notes. There are now twelve teams, up from seven last year. With the addition of its high school showcase program, “the sky really is the limit for Spartan,” he says. “I would love to get big enough to add another location in the future. I believe in this Academy and what its mission is, to change the culture of youth baseball for the better.”